Everyone needs a warmup, right? The Toronto Maple Leafs seemed to be aware of that, and brought one of their 2020/21 preseason scrimmages to another level – treating their Saturday night scrimmage to the full game experience. It was blue on white, in NHL jerseys, in Scotiabank Arena, with all the game night bells and whistles despite an empty crowd and a TV broadcast to entertain those of who looked to get a taste of what might be coming on Wednesday.
It didn’t disappoint – three periods, two intermission shootouts, and a one minute overtime to give us seven goals and several hours of preoccupation.
Team White opened up the scoring about halfway into the first period, with John Tavares regaining possession of Jimmy Vesey’s attempted tip-pass, leaning into a cut and slipping the puck past Frederik Andersen to give his team the lead. They would maintain it through one, leading to a shootout where pretty much everyone you’d expect to score failed, except for newcomer Mikko Lehtonen, who sent everyone back to their rooms in anticipation for the second.
In the middle frame, Adam Brooks extended White’s lead off of a quick backhand pass from Ilya Mikheyev, just two minutes in. The gap would shutter pretty quickly, however – Auston Matthews would soon find a streaking Mitch Marner, who made no mistake on the break. That kept Team Blue in the thick of it for a while, though with two and a half minutes remaining, the newcomer Lehtonen made himself noticed once again, this time taking a point shot that was redirected by William Nylander to make it a 3-1 game. The period closed with another shootout, and once again, the forwards were effectively lost – Morgan Rielly was the only one to score, giving Team Blue their lone bit of silver lining for the night.
The third period brought the most action to the score sheet, almost entirely in its second half. Nylander buried his second of the game off of a one-timer taken shortly after an expiring powerplay, only to be responded to a minute later by Matthews. With six minutes remaining, Pierre Engvall jumped into a rush to beat Aaron Dell and bolster Team White’s insurance, which was also responded to near immediately, this time by Jason Spezza, who made the most of a fortunate bounce off the boards.
Team White finally put the nail in the coffin two seconds into a powerplay with 70 seconds to go. Nick Robertson absolutely wired a one timer, showing those across the land why his shooting talents have recieved so much hype. Overtime was still played just to give some free hockey, despite the score, and Team White further ensured that they would be remembered as the victors there, with Mikheyev burying a breakaway with a trickler with a little under a minute elapsed.
Joe Thornton – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Alexander Barabanov – Jason Spezza – Wayne Simmonds
Nic Petan – Rourke Chartier – Travis Boyd
Kenny Agostino – Scott Sabourin
Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie
Rasmus Sandin – Travis Dermott
Calle Rosen – Timothy Lijlegren
Jimmy Vesey – John Tavares – William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev – Pierre Engvall – Zach Hyman
Nick Robertson – Adam Brooks – Joey Anderson
Justin Brazeau – Tyler Gaudet
Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
Mikko Lehtonen – Zach Bogosian
Mac Hollowell – Martin Marincin
- Tune-up or not, the Big Four were excellent. John Tavares appeared to have his trademark puck-strength that had been somewhat missing down the stretch last year. Auston Matthews’ release, two way game, and vision were all on display. Mitch Marner showed a different, shoot-happy side to him, and while it was a little obvious that the scrimmage setting allowed for some cherry picking in that regard, it was still nice to see him engage in that fashion. William Nylander looked in mid-season form. If they all hit the ground running like this on Wednesday, that’s fantastic.
- Mikko Lehtonen looks like he’ll have no trouble fitting into the lineup. His skating ability and decision making with the puck were pleasant surprises to see so early. He mentioned post-game that he felt that he could do better, and that likely is rooted in d-zone decision making, but those cobwebs were apparent across the board – it was a very fast, highly offensive effort across the board.
- Everyone, including the newer players, seemed to be on board with the Keefe / “Marliepuck” style breakouts and reloads tonight. Stretch passes were also more frequent than we’ve seen them in a while, though also more successful. Again, that’s likely due to the slightly more relaxed nature of the game.
- Travis Boyd found a way to keep himself involved in plays, developing several scoring opportunities for himself and his linemates. That might keep him in the taxi squad conversation moving forward, and maybe even a little more.
- Joe Thornton didn’t have the most mindblowing night, but also didn’t seem to be pulling down his line. I think most were just excited to see him in his new sweater, and the real evaluation will likely come after the honeymoon phase.
- In between the pipes, all three NHL goalies got two periods of play in. Frederik Andersen played 1&2 for Team Blue, and was shaky at times, perhaps not a shock for a tendy who has traditionally started slow. Jack Campbell played periods 1 and 3 for Team White and looked excellent throughout his appearances. Aaron Dell played Period 2 for Team White, and Period 3 for Team Blue, and did enough to look capable, though the overtime goal was unfortuante.
- Should Nick Robertson go down to the AHL due to the exemptions afforded by the CHL being indefinitely postponed, the line of himself, Adam Brooks, and Joey Anderson is going to dominate opponents at that level. They didn’t look like a line out to steal spots tonight, but all had moments where they showed NHL tools.
- Overall, the whole night was well thoguht out by the organization, and gave everyone a good taste of Leafs hockey before the real deal gets underway. Toronto will take on Montreal at 7:00 PM on Wednesday. Keep checking The Faceoff Circle for news and updates throughout the season – this is going to be a much more active year than previous on my end!